Every time I do a Q&A, or a talk, I get asked some variation of the “how do you get so much done” question. It’s happened so many times now, that I thought I’d write a post to tell you exactly I get so much done – and I can then save even more time, by pointing people here, instead of giving long-winded answers.
I used to work 100-hour weeks, pulling all-nighters and wearing my “hustle” as a badge of honour. Then I had kids, and my priorities changed BIG-time.
I now work 20 to 25 hours a week, yet I actually get MORE done than I used to in over a hundred.
Here are 7 things I do (or don’t do!) in order to get more stuff done in less time.
1. I don’t check email very often.
Inbox Zero isn’t something I value very highly. At any given point in time, I can have anything from just under a hundred, to more than a thousand unread emails in my inbox. And that’s fine with me.
There’s a famous saying that “your email inbox is everyone else’s to-do list.”
I was inspired by Tim Ferriss in his book “The Four Hour Work Week”, where Tim set up an autoresponder message, letting anyone who emailed him know that he only checked emails once a week on a Monday afternoon. If you were emailing Tim on a Tuesday morning, you had a long wait in store.
That seemed a bit extreme to me, but I do have my own version (You may well be reading this post as a result of my own autoresponder email message!), and I block out time to deal with emails when it fits into my diary (see creating a plan, below).
Sometimes this is once a day, other times it’s a couple of times a week, and occasionally, when my head is buried in book-writing mode, or an intense project that demands all of my time, energy, and focus, I won’t even look at emails for a week or two.
I have an assistant who does go into my email inbox on a daily basis, and she deals with a lot of my emails for me. She is able to filter and divert hundreds and hundreds of messages every week, so I never need to see them. She can also alert me to anything urgent that I need to look at, without me needing to dive into my inbox twenty times a day, and getting distracted all the time.
2. I triage everything
There’s an order to everything. Some things are more important than others. If you ever have to take a trip to your local Emergency Department, you’re likely to begin your journey in the Triage department. It’s their job to prioritise their resources to those who have a more urgent need.
The bloke dying of a heart attack jumps the queue ahead of the lady with a nasty cut on her leg, and she’s going to be seen before the guy nursing a black eye and a broken nose.
When I first went from 100+ hour weeks to 25-hour weeks, I did some 80/20 analysis. I worked out the 20% of tasks that gave me 80% of the results. And I stopped doing everything else.
My time is the most important resource I have, so I triage it.
I take care of the really important, urgent, time-critical things first. Then I focus my attention to non-urgent projects and tasks that move the needle for me – that give me the biggest bang for my buck.
Once those are done (and only then), I’ll start looking at other “stuff” – These could be emails from last week, paperwork that’s sat on my desk for a couple of weeks, or little jobs that have been waiting patiently for several months.
I don’t do things in the order they land on my desk. I do them in order of importance.
3. I create a plan, and stick to it.
If it’s not in my calendar, it doesn’t exist.
I live my life via my “Weekly Planner” (you can get your own copy of this here.), and have done so for the last six years. Every Friday afternoon, I plan out the following week, based on the “immovable objects” in my calendar, and my goals for the current quarter.
That allows me to easily see at a glance where the gaps are.
I can see where I can fit in a round of golf, or a gym session. Where I’m going to have time to look at emails, or where to batch my meetings.
And this plan rules me. I follow it to the letter. I stick to the schedule, and it gets me where I want to go. Sometimes I’ll deliberately leave some “gaps” open on the plan for contingencies, or dealing with the “stuff” that will inevitably get thrown my way.
But I don’t spend my days reacting to “stuff” in general – I stick to the plan like Sticky the Stick Insect, stuck on a sticky bun.
4. I don’t answer my phone.
Reasons I WILL answer my phone:
- We’ve booked a call in the diary, and it’s now the agreed time. (See sticking to the plan, above)
- You’re calling from my child’s school. (See Triage, also above)
- Erm, that’s about it.
Reasons I WON’T answer my phone:
- Everything else.
Being at the beck and call of my phone, dutifully answering it every time it rings takes me away from what I should be doing. It stops me in my tracks, and wastes valuable time that I should be spending working towards my goals. If we haven’t booked a call, and it’s not an emergency, I won’t be picking up!
My phone spends most of the day in “do not disturb” mode. The very first thing I do when getting a new phone is to turn off all of the notifications. I want my phone to serve me, and be available whenever I need it – not the other way around!
5. I know what I want to get done.
I’m not going to be the first person to talk about goal setting. But you know why everyone talks about goal setting?
Because it works. When I was working 100+ hour weeks, I didn’t really have any specific short term goals, beyond “earn a shit-load of money”. I didn’t have any focus for those 100+ hours, so I wasted them, doing all the “stuff” that I don’t touch anymore, reacting to every little thing around me.
Then I discovered the sweet spot of goal setting – Three BIG goals in 90 days. Three things are small enough to keep front of mind all the time, and ninety days is long enough to achieve something meaningful.
I wrote more about 90 day goal setting, and how to optimise it in my first book Big Ideas… for Small Businesses.
Because I always know what my BIG 3 are, it’s much easier to keep things on track, and ensure that the plan (See stick to the plan, above!) is pretty much guaranteed to take me to my goals. On the rare occasions that I do stray from the plan, having clear goals makes it much, much easier to get back on course.
6. I don’t have fifty tabs open.
You know how I can spot someone who’s wasting their own time? I send them a Facebook message, and get a reply within a minute. I can usually email these same people, and get a reply within 5 minutes. They’ve got their inbox open in one tab, and Facebook in another.
They’ve probably got three or four other things that they’re “working on” or “researching” also open – as well as what they actually should be doing.
What used to happen to Internet Explorer (showing my age now!) when you had too many windows open? Yep, it would crash. And that’s what happens to your focus when you’ve got fifty tabs open.
If you’re working on one thing at a time (and you should be!), then you only need one or two tabs open. When I’m writing, I have one window open – the one I’m writing in.. and nothing else. I even turn music off, so it doesn’t distract me.
By now, you’re probably spotting a common theme throughout all these hacks – they keep me focused on what I’m supposed to be doing – the things that will take me towards the goals I’ve set myself.
7. I don’t hang around on Facebook all day.
And I don’t watch TED talks when I’m supposed to be writing copy. I refuse to allow myself to be distracted by time-vampires – sucking the productive hours out of my day.
There’ll be plenty of time for dicking about on Facebook, binge-watching YouTube videos, or reading that book I’ve been wanting to get around to – after I’m finished with what I’m supposed to be doing.
The stuff that’s going to help me achieve my goals.
Anything else is just noise.